Friday, Oct. 14 | 6 p.m. | Van Andel Arena
The Boys are Back in Town
The Chicago Wolves’ Opening Night roster is highlighted by the return of several players, including goaltenders Jordan Binnington and Pheonix Copley, defensemen Chris Butler and Jordan Schmaltz and forwards Danny Kristo and Jordan Caron. Most notably, left wing Brett Sterling, defenseman Brad Hunt and center Alex Friesen return to the Chicago Wolves for the first time since the 2012-13 season. Sterling comes back to the States after winning back-to-back Austrian Cups with EC Salzburg in the Austrian Hockey League (EBEL). A key member of the Wolves’ 2008 Calder Cup-winning squad, Sterling looks to help Chicago get back to the postseason in search of his second Calder Cup. Schmaltz, 23, returns to the Wolves’ blue line for the 2016-17 season after leading all Wolves defensemen in points (36) last year.
New Kids on the Block
The Wolves’ 2016-17 roster features nine rookies: forwards Samuel Blais, Conner Bleackley, Bryce Gervais and Mackenzie MacEachern, defensemen Vince Dunn, Kevin Tansey and Tommy Vannelli and goaltender Ville Husso. Blais (QMJHL), Bleackley (WHL) and Dunn (OHL) join the Wolves after wrapping up their Canadian Hockey League careers. Husso is coming off a successful season in Finland’s top professional league, Liiga, having won the award that goes to the league’s top goaltender during the regular season. Vannelli played seven games last year with the Wolves, but was hampered by injuries. Gervais earned a standard player’s contract during the offseason after skating with the Wolves on an amateur tryout contract (ATO) last March. Tansey was a training camp invite who earned a standard player’s contract for the 2016-17 season.
Openers OK with Wolves
The Wolves tend to be successful when a new season dawns. Chicago hits the ice tonight having captured its last four season openers with wins (in reverse chronological order) over Milwaukee, Charlotte, San Antonio and Rockford. The Wolves own a 12-5-2-3 record in season openers (.659). This marks their first season opener on the road since earning a 2-1 win at San Antonio on Oct. 4, 2013. Chicago and Grand Rapids haven’t met in a season opener since Oct. 11, 2003, when the Griffins grabbed a 3-2 overtime victory at Allstate Arena.
This One Goes to 11
The Wolves’ Opening Night roster features 11 players who spent time in the NHL during the 2015-16 season. The list consists of Kenny Agostino, Andrew Agozzino, Jordan Binnington, Chris Butler, Jordan Caron, Pheonix Copley, Morgan Ellis, Landon Ferraro, Alex Friesen, Brad Hunt and Petteri Lindbohm.
The Wolves skated away with two victories and one loss last week as they played three exhibition games in three days to prepare for the start of the 2016-17 American Hockey League season. Facing in-state rival Rockford on Oct. 6, Chicago fell 4-1 to the IceHogs as Northbrook, Illinois, native Sam Povorozniouk netted the Wolves’ lone goal. Rookie netminder Ville Husso turned aside 32 shots in the loss. The Wolves met the Grand Rapids Griffins on Oct. 7 in Rolling Meadows and earned a 5-1 win. Danny Kristo, Wade Megan and Gus Young each tallied a goal and an assist in the win. In the Wolves’ final matchup of the preseason, they downed the Milwaukee Admirals 4-1 on Oct. 8 in Hoffman Estates. Rookie wing Samuel Blais accounted for two of the four goals while Mackenzie MacEachern spent time on the penalty-kill unit and netted a short-handed goal.
BY THE NUMBERS
2: The number of coaches behind Grand Rapids’ bench who earned a Calder Cup ring with the Wolves. Griffins head coach Todd Nelson served as an assistant to John Anderson when Chicago captured the 2008 AHL championship. Griffins assistant coach Ben Simon produced 11 goals and 23 assists in 74 regular-season games for the 2002 Wolves squad that earned the Calder Cup title in the franchise’s inaugural AHL season.
3: The current number of goaltenders on the Chicago Wolves roster. Rookie netminder Ville Husso enters his first season in the North American market. Previously, Husso tended net for HIFK in Finland’s top professional league, Liiga. The 21-year- old finished the 2015-16 regular season leading the league in wins (25), goals-against average (1.91) and save percentage (.927). His stellar play bled into the postseason as he finished with a league-leading 4 shutouts and a 1.51 goals-against average. His regular- season play earned him Liiga’s goaltender of the year honor. Seasoned goaltenders Jordan Binnington and Pheonix Copley return to the Wolves. Last season, both finished one win shy of the .500 mark. Copley finished the season with a team-leading 2.75 goal- against average while Binnington finished with a 2.85 GAA. Binnington led the club in wins with 17 while Copley finished with 15 victories.
5: Left wing Brett Sterling’s current position on the Chicago Wolves all-time scoring list. Sterling returns to the Wolves for his third stint with the organization in search of his second Calder Cup; he was a key member in the Wolves’ 2008 championship. Sterling has registered 308 points (167G, 141A) through 302 games with Chicago. He needs 35 points to surpass his former teammate, Jason Krog, who’s No. 4 on the list. Sterling ranks No. 2 on the club’s all-time goal list with 167. Wolves legend Steve Maltais holds down the No. 1 spot with 454 goals.
23: The number of seasons the Chicago Wolves have been a professional hockey franchise. Tonight marks the beginning of the Wolves’ 23rd season and the organization’s 15th in the American Hockey League. Prior to joining the AHL, the Wolves were members (and two-time champions) of the International Hockey League. That’s where the Wolves and Grand Rapids launched their rivalry in 1996- 97.
36: The number of points for last year’s top-scoring Chicago Wolves blueliner, then-rookie Jordan Schmaltz. In his first professional season, Schmaltz led all Wolves defensemen (and rookies) in scoring with 6 goals and 30 assists. He became just the fifth rookie to lead Wolves blueliners in scoring, and he did it while producing the third-highest point total for a rookie defenseman in franchise history.